Wednesday, September 12, 2007

By now, all the people who know me have been told ad nauseam that I live in Japan. I even have a zine about all things Japanese called Orga{ni}sm (if you don’t know it yet, you can have a look at its very seldom updated electronic version In few words, I’m interested in everything and everyone even remotely related to this country. That’s why as soon as I discovered a zinester with the very Japanese-sounding name of MariNaomi, I contacted her and she was kind enough to send me a copy of her beautiful publication Estrus Comics #4 (US$5.00 in the US, $8.00 anywhere else). Actually the only references to Nipponland I could find were in the last two pages, one devoted to a recipe for shabu shabu and the other the tale of a Japanese-style party gone wrong. I was far from disappointed, though. MariNaomi creates autobiographical comics full of personality. The stories that comprise the first part – about her early romantic (mis)adventures – run the whole gamut of teen-age idiosyncrasies, insecurities and tragedies. I’m now 43 and supposedly more stable and – god forbid – wiser, but thinking back at my teen years and early 20s still sends a chill down my spine. MariNaomi, though, seems to be a tougher kid who can handle life’s big and small accidents with great aplomb. The girl has a rebel streak and a ton of attitude, that’s for sure. She is especially good with face expressions, not a small accomplishment considering that she usually keeps things very simple.

Look at her face on page 3, for example: instead of crying, her face only shows disbelief and utter disgust for the unjust punishment she has to endure. Then on page 14 she is supposed to console her more-or-less boyfriend whose brother just committed suicide, but apparently she is only disappointed for another wasted date – which is a very natural reaction, methinks.

MariNaomi’s style is very minimal, sometimes even experimental, like in the wonderful single panel on page 39. She uses bold strokes and is heavy on black, but the overall design is very clear and uncluttered. I definitely look forward to issue #5.

I must confess I’ve never been a great fun of underground comics or comic zines. All too often the art is very rough, unpolished, and it ends up ruining even the best stories. This doesn’t mean, of course, that the stories are not important, quite the contrary, but if I don’t like the art, I don’t even open the zine. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when Mark Selan, indefatigable promoter of the Australian comic scene, sent me three of the fine zines he publishes under the SureShot Presents moniker. Actually I had only asked for Mandy Ord’s Ordinary Eyeball ($4.00), but in the fat packet he sent me I found other gems, namely L. Frank Weber’s Crab Allan: Gothic Boogaloo ($4.00) and a two-in-one by Douglas Holgate: Checkmate Wordsworth and Spaghetti Western ($4.00).

Crab Allan is a photographer with a tendency to jump into any kind of troubles. The story in Gothic Boogaloo doesn’t make a lot of sense but you don’t notice it anyway, taken as you are by the jokes, the fast-paced action and the top-notch art.

The same thing can be said about the two Holgate’s stories, which add to the standard adventure / action genre a touch of surrealism and exoticism (whatever that means). I especially loved Checkmate Wordsworth with its very British atmosphere (I’m a sucker for anything British!), an Agent Erronious who resembles the Phileas Fogg of Around the world in Eighty Days and a sort of Lovecraftian monster from outer space.

The best thing in Spaghetti Western , on the other hand, is the “cowboy English” spoken by its hapless characters. Very funny – at least to me, a non-native English speaker. You better love this comic. Otherwise, as the sheriff says, “you’ll be lergic to mah boot in yer backside!”

Both Weber’s and Holgate’s comics feature very polished art and are very professional-looking. In a sense, they look closer to mainstream comics. Ordinary Ball, on the other hand, is more ziney, both in its look – much rougher, even though a closer inspection reveals all the work that went into its making – and its contents – a typical perzine, with “a lot of honesty and vulnerability involved,” as Ord’s says in the enclosed interview.

The world of Ord’s comics is made of goofy people who painfully resemble us and are constantly caught in embarrassing situations and awkward moments. It’s a world in which even a simple shower looks frightening.

I started buying zines back in 1997, and soon found myself a niche in the market: I specialized, so to speak, in soon-to-be-dead publications. The fact is, as soon as I discovered a zine, the person behind it pulled the plug on it. I barely managed to get hold of the last two issues of the seminal Factshhet 5 and Global Mail before they became history. In 1999 I sent for the German mail art forum Numero and its editor promptly declared that was going to be its final issue (I later resurrected it as KAIRAN - see the "Gianni's stuff for sale" label for details). I could name at least ten more similar cases. So you can imagine my consternation when, soon after ordering a copy of Betty Paginated (AUS: $10; England and Europe: 5 pounds; US, Canada & rest of the world: US$10) I read in a review that after 15 years and 30 issues, editor and publisher supremo Dann Lennard had decided to call it quits. Luckily it seems that Dann is only scaling his enterprise down and from now on he will put out smaller zines, not the 70-80 page A4-sized monsters he had become famous for.

Wait a second, I just said ‘luckily’ but I suspect that not few PC zine people would actually celebrate the death of this mag. Admittedly, BP’s contents are not for everybody. The “problem” is, Dann has a(n) (un)healthy passion for naked women and pro rasslin’ (his spelling). These two subjects comprise a good part of the zine. In issue #29, for instance, I counted 12 pro wresting-related pages (out of 68) and 27 pairs of naked tits. Then of course there is other lowbrow material – trash cinema, celebrity gossip… after all Dann is deputy editor of People magazine. So why should you check BP out? Well, first of all, even if you don’t like wrestling (I don’t) and you are sexually repressed, there is still plenty to read. In issue #29, for example, there are 20 pages of great travel writing: Dann and his wife Helen chronicle their second trip to the USA (22 states in three weeks!) and are very good at uncovering the odd, embarrassing, sometimes even scary sides of this country. You should especially check Helen’s pieces. She looks like your typical apple pie-loving middle class wife but boy, is she wicked! She’s an excellent writer and Dann should give her more space. Then there are music, book, weird comics (issue #30 is devoted to this subject) and zine reviews. But most importantly, Dann and Helen know how to entertain. Their stories are full of wit and humor, but even more than that, they are not afraid to show you the shit that surrounds us. They hold a big (maybe a little deformed) mirror in front of us and show us what life is really made of. And in doing that, they take no prisoners.

The last zine I’m going to review this time is called Old Weird America (issue #2 is a slightly different That Olde, Weird America) (US$2.00). It first caught my eye several months ago when Broken Pencil (the Canadian equivalent of Zine World) featured it as the “zine of the month.” Think about that: here you have a big mag that reviews literally hundreds of Canadian zines, and they choose something from south of the border as the best of the lot. One more reason for the Canadians to hate evil America, I guess. But I digress. In the first issue, Rose White writes about how shitty but wonderful Detroit is (or was: judging by the state of the place back in 2005 I wouldn’t be surprised if by now it had imploded and gone to hell). It’s a typical example of something that on paper sounds very romantic (remember those great early Bruce Springsteen’s songs?) but that nobody in their right mind would actually want to experience in person. Indeed, Rose herself left Detroit to look for more trouble in New York, the subject of the second issue.

Her style is plain enough, and somewhat deceiving. She sounds like a contrabass from one of those vinyl records from the ‘40s and’50s: you notice her absence, more than her presence; like when, in issue #1, you read someone else’s stories and you finally understand how good she is. More than for what she wrote, she struck me for what she made me think about – myself, my relationship with my equally shitty hometown, and my own escape from there, 15 years ago. In issue #2 she suddenly transforms into a stripper in order to survive in the Big Rotten Apple. Somehow, her writing gets even better: more focused, more compact. More interesting.

Estrus Comics, c/o MariNaomi, P.O. Box 640811, San Francisco, CA 94164-0811, USA <>

SureShot Presents,

Mandy Ord,

L. Frank Weber,

Douglas Holgate,

Betty Paginated, P.O.Box A1412, Sydney South, NSW 1235, Australia<>

Old Weird America, P.O. Box 6598, NY, NY 10150, USA

1 comment:

Anthony Woodward said...

Good reviews